Earlier this week, when Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked about facing the winless Cleveland Browns, he was so complimentary that it almost sounded as if the Ravens had no chance Sunday.
In so many words, he said the Browns were very tough on defense and explosive on offense.
He was merely indulging a time-honored coach's tradition, namely, propping up a losing opponent so you don't incite them. Where I come from, it's called blowing smoke.
But you could tell Harbaugh meant what he said and fully expects the 0-13 Browns to give his 7-6 Ravens a tough game Sunday.
I mean, why wouldn't they?
Have you looked at the numbers? The Browns are ranked higher than the Ravens in total offense, total defense, passing offense and rushing defense. That's pretty darn close to a clean sweep.
Oh, and regarding explosiveness, the Browns are ranked No. 12 in the league in pass completions of 20 or more yards. The Ravens are No. 31.
So, yeah, you do almost start to wonder how the Ravens are going to get the job done Sunday against a Cleveland team that surely is itching to win one and continues to play hard.
Nonetheless, I think the Ravens' likeliest path to what would be a much-needed victory is clear. There's one area in which this game is a complete and utter mismatch.
The Ravens are just about the most opportunistic team in the league. The Browns are, hands down, the most charitable.
The teams might shape up as an even match in terms of ebb and flow, moving the chains, etc., but the Ravens should be able to separate themselves by forcing the young Browns into mistakes.
Cleveland's 32 giveaways through 13 games is easily the highest figure in the league. Only one other team has more than 24.
The Browns are particularly prone to throwing interceptions. They've tossed 20, which, somewhat incredibly, represents 6.6 percent of all interceptions thrown in the NFL this season.
It stands to reason that the Ravens can take advantage of that. They've picked off 20 passes in 13 games, which leads the league. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have more overall takeaways than Baltimore.
Like Harbaugh, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees also complimented the Browns earlier this week, calling them a "scary" group that "on film, does not look like an 0-13 team."
But Pees did point out what has kept the Browns from winning several games.
"I don't know how many times coaches have always said it: 'Most games are probably not won in this league, they are lost.' That has been their problem. They have played well enough; they have just given it away," Pees said.
The Ravens' ability to make Cleveland do that again, just give it away, almost surely will tell the tale Sunday. And that's true not just because it's the Browns on the other side of the ball. Few metrics have been a surer predictor of the Ravens' success and failure this season than whether or not they're generating takeaways.
They've forced 24 in their seven wins, but in their six losses, they've forced just a total of five.
For all the talk about what the Ravens did or didn't do to let a late lead slip away Sunday night in Pittsburgh, the game probably was decided by the fact that the Steelers didn't commit a single turnover while Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw an interception that took points off the board early – points that could have made all the difference in the end.
It's not a coincidence that Pittsburgh only committed one turnover in 120 minutes against Baltimore this season and swept the season series. Protecting the football is how you beat the opportunistic Ravens.
And protecting the football has been the Browns' biggest problem all season.
The Ravens forced five turnovers and won by 14 points when the teams met in September at M&T Bank Stadium. It probably won't take that many takeaways to assure another Baltimore victory Sunday. But it probably will take at least a couple.